VSL Prospects: Pitching

The Venezuelan Summer League - VSL - is home to young players trying to get themselves positioned for a spot on a roster with a minor league club in the states. Most players won't even see the states as a professional player, but there are always those few who find a way to burst through.

Pitching was the key for the Phillies entry in the 2005 Venezuelan Summer League. The team finished with a 2.91 ERA and held opponents to a .216 batting average.

The starting rotation was led by Freddy Ballestas who finished the season 6-4 in a team-high 14 starts. There were pitchers with better overall numbers, but none who started as many games for the VSL Phillies or pitched entirely as a starter. Ballestas posted a 2.14 ERA, which was the second best in the Phillies organization among pitchers with enough innings (0.8 IP per team game) to qualify. Ballestas was second only to teammate Jose Saenz and just ahead of teammate Rolando Altamirano. Ballestas threw a complete game shutout and held opponents to a .230 average while striking out 45 in 68 2/3 innings of work. The young right-hander just turned 19 in October and was pitching in his first Venezuelan Summer League season.

Saenz started six games and worked as a reliever in ten other games, going 6-3 and posting a 2.01 ERA with the VSL Phillies. One of the keys for Saenz was his walk-to-strikeout ratio of 8 walks and 40 strikeouts, or one walk for every five strikeouts. Saenz led the team with four of the team's 16 saves. The downside is that Saenz is a little old for the VSL, turning 22 in January.

As for Altamirano, he worked primarily as a starter, pitching in 14 games and appearing in relief in just four of those games. Altamirano posted even better overall numbers than Ballestos, going 4-4 with a 2.10 ERA. He and Ballestos pitched an identical number of innings, but Altamirano struck out 52 while walking just 23 on the season. Opponents hit just .207 against the 21 year old right-hander.

Sergio Escalona (1-1, 2.97), Norman Lopez (2-2, 3.09) and Moises Melendez (3-0, 2.49) all put up impressive numbers and started at least six games each for the Phillies. The three are almost afterthoughts though because of the impressive numbers that others posted. Melendez was one of just three left-handers on the team and started six of the 13 games that he pitched in. In 47 innings, Melendez whiffed a team-high 68 batters, but was a little high on the walks with 34. While Escalona struggled with his control at times (29 walks/34 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings), Lopez had pinpoint control, walking just seven and striking out 30 in 35 innings of work.

The other two lefties on the club, Juan Casas and Juan Colmenarez each posted ERAs over 4.00, but both showed some true signs of developing into decent pitchers. Casas (0-0, 4.63) pitched just 11 2/3 innings and struck out 13, but struggled at times with his control. Colmenarez pitched 13 1/3 innings and walked just four while striking out 12, but opponents hit .327 against him. Casas just turned 20 in November and was in his second season in the VSL while Colmenarez turned 19 in October and was in his first VSL season.

Jose Romero, 19, pitched in 12 games out of the bullpen, but tied Ballestas for the team lead with six wins and he suffered no losses in his first VSL season. Opponents were able to hit just .175 against Romero and he struck out 24 in 35 1/3 innings of work.

Reliever Lesmir Vargas pitched just 9 2/3 innings, but showed a lot in his short time. He struck out 8 and opponents hit just .138 against him. He was hurt by some weak fielding behind him, but finished with a 1.86 ERA.

Other pitchers like Ronmel Fierro (3-2, 2.88) and Mauricio Romero (1-1, 3.29) deserve mention, but weren't quite on the same consistent level as some of the other pitchers on the club. Manuel Landaeta pitched just three innings, but allowed just one hit and one walk.


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